Published February 5, 2018
BEDFORD, MA – Providing students with hands-on robotics
experience opens doors to their future. Strengthening STEM
skills benefits all of our communities by giving today’s youth the
knowledge they will need to tackle tomorrow’s issues. Unfortunately,
not all schools have the resources to provide these experiences.
Now, schools in Massachusetts have a new ally in delivering these
opportunities: the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
The Guard had long noted a hunger for STEM resources.
Over the years, the Guard has partnered with several education
organizations in its effort to attract talented, technically minded
young people. It was through a partnership with SkillsUSA® that
the Massachusetts Army National Guard became aware of a
perfect opportunity to help schools meet their needs: Robotics:Urban Search & Rescue.
In this robotics competition created and sponsored by
Pitsco Education, teams of students design and operate
remote-controlled robots through simulated disaster areas,
seeking hidden explosives and disposing of them.
One point of interest was the overlap with the Guard’s
expertise. It maintains multiple explosive ordnance disposal
(EOD) teams and works with bomb squads in state law-enforcement
“Urban Search & Rescue plays right into our mission,” said
Sergeant First Class Geoffrey Allen of the Guard’s recruiting and
retention battalion. “You can easily bridge the gap between the
robotics the students use and what we would use in a real-world
scenario for our own search-and-rescue missions.”
As of 2018, the Massachusetts Army National Guard is
taking the lead with Urban Search & Rescue in the state. The
Guard is providing dedicated trailers fitted with competition
courses for district and state leadership meets for SkillsUSA
and is running the competitions.
But that isn’t all. To increase STEM access, the organization
is also bringing its trailers and TETRIX® robotics sets to schools
that lack resources to become involved in the competition.
THE FULL EXPERIENCE
The program has had only a short run, but the interest
level from schools has been, in a word, fantastic. The traveling
trailers have been booked week after week.
Electronics Instructor Lisa Roy expressed the enthusiasm
that many teachers have felt, “The Pitsco Urban Search and
Rescue robot event, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Army
National Guard, was an amazing day for the students of Greater
Lowell Technical High School. Students learned team-building,
critical-thinking, and problem-solving. The Pitsco robots are
educational, fun, and challenging for the students. They also
provided the students with the opportunity to see the skills they
have learned in school used in a real-world environment for
search and rescue. Working with the National Guard staff made
the event even better for the students and staff.”
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the experience
the Guard provides is tailored to the wishes of the school.
Are teachers looking to introduce complex concepts such as
programming and construction, or are they looking to give
students a taste for competition? Either way, the Guard is
happy to lend a hand.
The team can roll in with prebuilt robots and an obstacle
course and host a quick competition. Students have a blast
navigating the robots remotely from a command center with
the aid of a spotter at the course.
Or, if a teacher wishes, the Guard can provide a more
in-depth experience – presenting a whole class on robotics
and search and rescue.
The mobile trailers and the expertise the Guard offers are
key to this versatility. And, of course, there’s the power of the
TETRIX robotics platform.
“There are so many different facets to the [TETRIX] robot,”
said Allen. “Students learn about electronics – putting the
motherboard and the servos in the right spot. They learn about
mechanics and mechanical engineering – put the wrong piece
in the wrong way and the robot isn’t going to work. They can
even take it a step further, adding modules to the robots so
students can program their robots to do simple tasks.”
A BENEFIT TO ALL
Through the program, students are exposed to the
National Guard and its mission to serve community and
country. Students interested in robotics or disaster relief
can form a vision of their career path based on what they
experience. But for the Guard members leading the Urban
Search & Rescue program, the reward is also personal.
Battalion Commander Lieutenant Eric J. Dinoto shared his
own story: “I was born and raised here in Massachusetts and
have two great kids attending our local high school, so to say
that I am invested in enhancing our children’s education is an
understatement. . . . The Massachusetts Army National Guard is the
original community-based organization, and as citizen-soldiers we
pride ourselves on giving back to our local communities.”
Guard units across the country have noticed the success
of the Massachusetts program and the extraordinary STEM
opportunity it offers for the state.
“Some of these schools just don’t have the ability to
purchase things of this scale on their own,” said Sergeant
Allen. “To give them access to that on our site – it’s a win-win
for them. We have a great time doing it, and it has brought us
into a lot of schools that really want STEM access.”